I’m a private chauffeur in S’pore who has driven wealthy people around for the past 18 years

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Mothership | December 25, 2020, 10:41 AM

PERSPECTIVE: We speak to Hashim, a self-employed personal driver for a wealthy family in Singapore living in Bukit Timah. Hashim has been with this family for the past 15 years. Before that, he spent three years chauffeuring bankers.

We find out what a day in his life is like, and the stories he has accumulated from his 18 years of experience.

As told to Tanya Ong

I've been a personal driver for the past 18 years.

In the 90s, I worked for a wealthy Japanese family. The head of the family was a CEO of a big company. That was the first time I worked as a chauffeur.

After that, I stopped driving and worked at the Singapore Zoo for seven years. I drove the tram there.

Then, I was part of a group of drivers who drive bankers from this particular bank around. I did that for three years.

Now, I'm no longer with a company. I've been serving this family for 15 years.

What's a typical day like for you as a driver for this family?

As their family driver, my working hours is around nine to six, five days a week. Unless there's a dinner appointment or an evening appointment.

I usually reach the house at 8:30am, and clean the car. I will send the family members to their appointments, and I will go fetch them when they're done. If their appointment takes a long time, I will come back to be 'stationed' at the family house.

In a day, I might have around two bookings from the family members. But there will be at least one appointment per day.

Since the pandemic hit, I've had very good hours. The family tells me that I don't need to hang back for too long, and I only need to pick them up when they need me. So I'm at home unless I need to drive them somewhere.

How do they 'book' you? Do you know in advance if they will require your services?

We have an app of sorts. Through the app, I can see when they have made a booking, and for what time. This is so the family members know that I have an appointment and there won't be clashes in the booking of timeslots.

There are four people in the family, but not all of them live in that house. I am like their family's driver, though, so I will drive all of them around.

Do you have a fixed car that you drive? Or do you drive their cars?

The family members have their individual cars. Sometimes, they may drive their own car out. If they want me to drive, I use another car (not their personal car), which is stationed at their house.

I drive one of their family cars. The car belongs to one of their relatives.

What car is it? It's a Nissan Serena.

For illustrative example. Not the actual family car. Photo via Wikipedia.

If it's stationed there, do you take public transport to the house every day?

No, the family lets me use this car and drive it home, or use it even on my off days. But if I go on leave for one or two weeks, I leave the car at their house.

It's very difficult to find an employer who lets you drive their car back home. They treat me as one of their family members!

When did they start letting you drive their car home? For the first three to four years of working for this family, I did have to take a bus and walk in. From the main road in to the house, I need to walk for about 15 minutes.

Seeing that I had to walk in and out every day, their mum (who has now passed away) actually bought me a second-hand car to use. The car has since been scrapped.

Wow, that's really lovely of them!

They are very generous family and treat me as one of their family. That's why I can work with them for 15 years.

Once, their mother asked me to join them for lunch. But because I am Muslim (and their food is not Halal), I said, thank you but I cannot. Instead, they gave me lunch money to buy food elsewhere.

The family also gives me an increment every few years, and even let me claim medical expenses. They even paid for my new spectacles.

They're very nice.

As their driver I'm sure you've heard a lot of personal conversations. What happens then? Do you pretend to not hear anything?

I can talk to them about anything! But of course I also respect them as my boss.

(If I hear something very personal) I will not get involved. I might pretend I didn't hear anything. I won't engage in the conversations unless they specifically ask for my input.

Be honest: In all your years of driving, were there any strange habits or routines you had to get used to?

When you first start working with someone (maybe for the first few weeks or months), you don't know [your employer] well yet. You don't know what to expect.

But after a year or so, you'll know what's happening and what their patterns are like. You'll understand their character, and what they want.

For this family, they have their own routines and they go to the same places sometimes.

So you've never had any negative experiences? What about the other times you had to drive other people around?

When I was driving the bankers around, they could be very fussy sometimes.

If they are rushing to a meeting, they might tell me, "Eh I late already, can you hurry up?"

But because safety is a priority, I will tell them "sorry, I cannot speed". They will be unhappy and scold me. I don't talk back to them. As drivers, we just keep quiet.

I also have to get used to waiting for hours at a carpark, until they call me.

(They don't tell you what time they'll be done?) They might. But if they don't tell us, we need to wait at the carpark.

That was the only time you worked as a driver under a company?

Yes. Actually, most drivers work with a company. Being a personal driver is quite risky because there is no contract. One day, the family employs you, and the next day, they chuck you — what can you do? You cannot do anything.

So it really depends on your boss. If you get a nasty one, it's a problem. It's risky.

Are you also friends with other personal drivers?

Every morning, before we go to work, we actually sit at a coffeeshop (in Bukit Timah, near where their bosses live). There are about six or seven of us.

We will sit and chitchat. Among the drivers, we also have a WhatsApp group chat where we share information on traffic, or speed cameras.

Some of the drivers also have stories on how their bosses take it out on them if they are in a bad mood, or stories of very rich people who change drivers very often. Some drivers, they cannot take it. They quit.

But for yourself... you haven't had such experiences with this family.

It's true. My friends tell me about their bosses, and how sometimes, rich people look down on you.

But for me, I'm lucky.

You would say you enjoy your job?

My children tell me not to work so hard. I'm already 66 years old! But so far for me, no problem. I've got a good family and an easy job.

Some quotes have been edited for clarity.

Top photo via Unsplash/Dan Gold.